aguamiel adult poolGreater Phoenix CVB

If your recent holiday experiences are feeling a bit too much like an extension of your hectic everyday life, it’s time to get yourself to the Valley of the Sun – the aptly-named part of Central Arizona with Phoenix at the hub. With 300+ days of sunshine each year, it’s difficult to even recall the last grey and cloudy day.

A trip to central Arizona begins with a string of pleasant surprises. They have everything needed to slow down, breathe deeply, restore perspective and get your body and mind back on track. There are world-class resorts, some of nation’s best golf, the beauty of the surrounding desert and mountains, restaurants and shopping. Nature and entertainment live side-by-side in the valley.

There is so much packed into the communities of this region, that a primer to describe who’s who may be in order:

Phoenix gets it. At the heart of the Sonoran Desert sits the country’s fifth largest city, encircled by red rock buttes, craggy mountains and desert forests of towering saguaro cacti. There’s something about the spectacular vistas and the spectrum of activities that makes Phoenix the kind of place that anyone can claim for their own.

Your chi needs some fine-tuning and your chakras are blocked. Thank goodness for the beautiful desert setting, the sporting life, the spas and wellness programs of Scottsdale. Set in the heart of the lush Sonoran Desert, this community is the perfect backdrop for a rejuvenation – whether a desert hike, 18 holes of golf, a Wild West horseback adventure or the latest and greatest spa treatment.

Known for college sports, Tempe attracts fans and athletes, families looking for some quality time together, and lovers of festivals, the visual and performing arts.

Getting close to the natural bounty of the Sonoran Desert is a snap when you are based in Mesa, the region’s next vacation hot spot. Foodies are close to Mesa’s citrus fields and farmers’ markets. “Big” city services sitright next door to some of the Southwest’s best outdoor recreation areas. Access to Mesa is super-fast via the easily navigable Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

mim image 4MIM/Bill Timmerman

Must See, Must Do

  • Lift off in the early dawn and float over the Sonoran Desert in a hot air balloon. After landing, indulge in gourmet foods and a glass of fine champagne – a tradition dating back to early French balloonists.
  • Connect with your inner cowboy or cowgirl and crisscross the trails of South Mountain Park on horseback.
  • Take a musical trip around the world at the Musical Instrument Museum. Shake the Thunder Tube – the internal springs make a musical sound that sounds like a cross between a gong and a didgeridoo.
  • Find a taste of prickly pear cactus – harvested in the surrounding desert. The prickly pear fruit shows up in drinks, ice cream and desserts.
  • Experience a valley landmark: Take water and hike to the top of granite and sandstone Camelback Mountain for a sweeping 360-degree panoramic vista. The trail up Camelback Mountain is the most popular hiking destination in the Valley of the Sun.

Bring The Kids

  • Kids gravitate to the hands on activities at the We Are! Arizona’s First People exhibit at the Heard Museum. They can braid a traditional belt, craft a basket or make colourful flower decorations.
  • All ages are welcome at MacDonald’s Ranch’s guided horseback rides, hayrides and cowboy cookouts.
  • Make golf a family affair. At the Junior Golf Academy at Troon North Golf Club, young golfers learn important skills needed to improve their game on the club’s family-friendly Monument Express nine-hole course. Kierland Golf Club’s SNAG Golf program, teaches kids the fundamentals of the sport using modified equipment and specialized instruction methods. The Family Teeprogram at TPC Scottsdale opens the Champions Course into a shorter, more playable venue. Grayhawk Golf Club teaches the game fundamentals at summer junior golf camps for youth ages eight to 16.
  • On Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, the Gallery of Scientific Exploration’s interactive exhibits and high-definition monitors display video from Earth-observing satellites and robotic probes of other worlds. Exhibits include a replica of the Mars Rover Curiosity, instruments used to measure earthquakes and a digital video globe that presents dynamic global and extra-terrestrial information.
  • The Arizona Museum for Youth (get in touch with the fine arts), the Children’s Museum of Phoenix (open-ended, imaginative play) and the Arizona Museum of Natural History all offer free admission one day a month.
  • Kids go crazy over the paleo dig pit and the dinosaur skeletons at the Arizona Museum of Natural History.

Cultural Connections

  • Phoenix and the surrounding communities are awash with museums and art collections. The world-renowned Heard Museum is known for its collection of authentic Native American art and craftwork. The Musical Instrument Museum has more than 5,000 instruments and song from around the globe. The collection at the Phoenix Art Museum includes more than 17,000 works of art, sculpture and photography.
  • Phoenix’s First Friday is the  largest, self-guided art walk through arts districts in the U.S. The monthly event showcases more than 70 galleries and arts venues.
  • Check out the 10 most celebrated pieces of the Scottsdale Public Art Program during a self-guided, 60-minute walking tour.
  • Ultimate Art & Cultural Tours guides visitors into art galleries, studios and museums, and to the cutting edge architecture of some of the 20th century’s most acclaimed architects, including greats like Frank Lloyd Wright.
  • A stroll through downtown Mesa will take you by the 38 pieces in the Mesa Permanent Sculpture Collection.
  • Phoenix’s Heard Museum hosts the annual World Championship Hoop Dance where dozens of hoop dancers from across North America showcase their skill and talent in this ancient dancing tradition.
  • Acclaimed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright recognized the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and decided to build his own winter home just outside the city limits. Taliesin West is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public for guided tours.

W&W green chiliconcarneThe Westin Kierland Resort & Spa


The valley is home to hundreds of eateries serving up every cuisine and style imaginable. And the roots of the region’s food history run deep – corn and squash of the Native peoples, mesquite-fired fare that was the staple of ranchers and frontiersmen, tasty Mexican dishes imported from south of the border, and the cutting edge fusion and global flavours being played with by today’s top chefs.

  • History and food are intertwined in the three-hour guided culinary tours offered by Destination Food Tours in Scottsdale.
  • The Eats + Arts program brings together patrons of the arts, museum lovers and local eateries. Present a ticket stub from the Mesa Arts Center, Arizona Museum for Youth or the Arizona Museum of Natural History for special discounts at a long list of Mesa restaurants and bars.
  • On Saturday evenings, the Food Truck Caravan in downtown Scottsdale features a rotation of eight gourmet food trucks with foods from around the world. Phoenix’s gourmet food trucks zip around town (you can track their whereabouts on Twitter), but on Fridays at lunchtime they gather by the Phoenix Public Market.
  • Food festivals! Every April, thousands of dedicated foodies pass through the doors of the Scottsdale Culinary Festival to take in cooking demonstrations, meet-and-greets with celebrity chefs and picnics. On offer at the Arizona Taco Festival: a chile pepper eating contest and gourmet tacos from 30 restaurants. At the Arizona Barbeque Festival teams grill, smoke and braise their way through the BBQ competitions.
  • Producers and food artisans at the Scottsdale and Mesa Old Town Farmers’ Markets and the open-air Phoenix Public Market to sell seasonal goods such as cider, apples, local cheeses, artisan breads, jams and tamales.

phoenix the wigwam goldGreater Phoenix CVB
PeopleAt Play

Man cannot live by putters, drivers and hiking poles alone…but in Central Arizona, he sure can give it a good try. For starters, there are more than 200 golf clubs in the Valley of the Sun including dozens of courses ranked as Arizona’s top choices. The striking Sonoran Desert marries the starkly beautiful arid landscape with sweeping fairways and lush putting greens. Add in the famously sunny, dry weather and you’re looking at year-round conditions on the links. And golf is just the start of a very long list of ways to play:

  • Scottsdale hosts the PGA TOUR’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, the best-attended golf tournament in the world, welcoming about 500,000 spectators a year.
  • The Camelback Golf Club’s Ambiante course has been revamped with new bunkers and reconfigured water features.
  • 360 Adventures at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch is a one-stop-shop for planning adventure activities including self-driven Tomcars, hot air balloon rides and scenic desert tours.
  • Seeing the desert from above is possible with Arizona Powerchutes’ two-passenger, motorized carts, suspended below a gigantic parachute. Fly low to see desert plant and wildlife or high above the mountains for a panoramic vista.
  • Aerial tours by small plane or helicopter cover a lot of ground in a very short timeframe. Day trips can be arranged to the red rocks of Sedona, Roosevelt Lake and the Grand Canyon.
  • Scottsdale insiders rave about the city’s greenbelt, known as Indian Bend Wash, an interconnected string of four urban parks with lighted walking paths, fishing ponds, athletic fields, tennis courts, a skate park and dog park. Journey Arizona rents electric bikes that will add a pleasant twist to the usual day in the saddle – the bikes are quiet and make a day of pedalling a little bit easier.
  • The mountains of the Phoenix area are a mecca for experienced climbers and canyoneers. Hot spots include the craggy slopes of the McDowell Mountains and the granite face at Pinnacle Peak Park. Early learners can enrol at The Boulders Resort private and group rock-climbing lessons, held on the resort’s massive granite rocks.
  • With the highest rainfall of America’s four deserts, the Sonoran landscape has many lakes and rivers for boating, swimming, rafting and tubing.
  • The working cattle ranch at the Arizona Cowboy College teaches greenhorns roping and riding skills before heading out on an overnight cattle drive.
  • For winter-weary northerners, the springtime baseball Cactus League cannot come soon enough. Most popular is the Chicago Cubs spring workouts – in 2014 the Cubbies will be training from a brand new facility located between Mesa and Tempe.
  • Thrill-seekers can step aboard vintage war birds at Mesa’s Commemorative Air Force Aviation Museum for an aerial flight over the scenic Salt River Canyon.

Natural Resources

The desert is a delicately balanced ecosystem featuring thousands of specially adapted plants and animals able to survive both searing summertime temperatures and infrequent rainfall. The Sonoran is home to some 60 mammal, 350 bird, 100+ reptile and 30 native fish species. Beyond its unique flora and fauna, the desert is a treasure trove of human history, including prehistoric ruins, Native American monuments and abandoned mining encampments.

  • Tag along on a guided nature walk at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum to learn about the plants that thrive in arid environments.
  • The eco-tour specialists at My Arizona Guide lead custom tours on desert geology, biology, mining history, local legends, Native American archaeology, history, culture and use of desert plants for sustenance and medicine.
  • No 500-thread count sheets here (but lots of great tips for experiencing the heart of the Sonoran): Windwalker Expeditions leads desert survival courses from basic skills to an expert-only three-day challenge.
  • The 3,430-hectare McDowell Sonoran Preserve is an outdoor lover’s dream with more than 160 kilometres of trails through rugged mountain terrain and the lush cacti “forests” of the desert. So close to urban chic Scottsdale, yet still a world away, the trails are a magnet for hikers, mountain bikers, rock climbers and horseback riders.
  • The Desert Botanical Garden is a 50,000-plant oasis showcasing some of the world’s finest collections of desert flora, including 169 rare and endangered species. The Garden hosts nighttime flashlight tours and a popular Music in the Garden series.
  • Exploring the desert landscape can be as easy as settling into the back seat of a four-wheel drive vehicle – there are a number of motorized tours in vehicles custom-designed for powering over desert terrain.
  • Birders love the riparian preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch, where almost 200 species have been spotted. The oldest botanical garden in the Southwest at Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park gives visiting birders an Arboretum Bird Checklist.

Top Shops

For vacationers, shopping is often at the top of their wish list. In the Valley of the Sun, there is no shortage of opportunities to find the perfect souvenir, piece of home décor or the latest fashions. Here is a guide to some of the more talked-about shopping spots:

  • Scottsdale has a solid reputation as a shopper’s paradise – from outdoor promenades with one-of-a-kind boutiques to upscale fashion malls. Walkable downtown Scottsdale is home to hundreds of specialty shops and boutiques. Scottsdale Arts District is a compact four-block downtown stretch filled with some of the nation’s finest galleries. Scottsdale’s The Mix at Southbridge is home to trendsetting fashion boutiques and eclectic shops. The Southwest’s largest shopping destination, Scottsdale Fashion Square has added several high-end retailers including Prada and Louis Vuitton. Scottsdale Quarter is an open-air centre with fashion, home and specialty retailers including Pottery Barn and True Food Kitchen. The lifestyle centre at Kierland Commons has a distinct Main Street feel – shoppers can stroll the palm-lined walkways while deciding if it’s going to be snack time or shopping time.
  • In Phoenix, UNIONBiltmore Fashion Park’s hub of small, independent retail stores includes more than a dozen one-of-a-kind intimate boutiques. Collectors of Native American art can purchase quality pieces of pottery, kachina dolls, beadwork, weavings and jewelry at the Heard Museum shop.
  • The upscale shops at Dana Park Village Square in Mesa are a reflection of some of the city’s more refined neighbourhoods. Mesa’s largest retail centre is Mesa Riverview, home to all the shopping favourites like Marshall’s, Bath & Beyond and Bass Pro Shops. Downtown Mesa is one square mile of shopping pleasure – more than 100 boutiques, antique shops and speciality stores participate in the Downtown Mesa Gift Card program.
  • Shopping tours led by the professional fashionistas at SPREE! The Art of Shopping are a must for serious style lovers. Shops will roll out the red carpet.

Digital Resources

One stop to plan Sonoran Desert outings: